With COVID-19 controlling everything in life right now, it might be fun to look at hockey history. Over their 40-plus seasons, the Windsor Spitfires have had dozens of must-see talent walk through the hallowed hallways. Given all of that talent, it makes you wonder which players you’d start if everything was on the line.
In December, we talked about the Spitfires’ All-Decade club, which included some exceptional recent players. Now, let’s go further back, and look at talent from the 2000s and before. It was a different era, one with hard hits, crazy stats, and names that will forever be told in stories.
Let’s examine the Spitfires’ all-time starting lineup and see who would get the nod if they had just one game to prove themselves as the best in the country.
Spitfires’ All-Time Starting Lineup
Goaltender – Michael DiPietro
When you think about Spitfires’ goaltenders over the years, a few names come to mind including Michael Leighton, Andrew Engelage, and Travis Scott. However, one name stands out and it’s tough to go with anyone else.
The Spitfires drafted Amherstburg-native Michael DiPietro in the second round of the 2015 OHL Draft and never looked back. He immediately made his mark and was named to the OHL First Rookie Team in 2015-16. That was followed by the CHL Memorial Cup MVP in 2017 and being named OHL Goaltender of the Year in 2018. Add in team records for career shutouts and wins, and outstanding community work; the kid did it all.
No matter how skilled the team was in front of him, the Spitfires always had a shot at the win with DiPietro in goal. He was that good. When the team traded him to the Ottawa 67’s in December 2018, it became one of the biggest stories of the decade. To this day, fans have kept a close eye on his trek through the Vancouver Canucks’ farm system.
The Spitfires have seen many quality goaltenders come-and-go, but the player they call “Mikey” is deserving of a spot in the team’s all-time starting six.
Defence – Ryan Ellis and D.J. Smith
When it’s all on the line, you want your defencemen to bring everything to the table. That’s exactly what Ryan Ellis and D.J. Smith did.
Former general manager Warren Rychel drafted Ellis in the second round of the 2007 OHL Draft and regretted nothing. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Hamilton-native defined the Spitfires’ new era with an elite combination of dynamic offence, stingy defence, and leadership.
His 313 career points are tops among Spitfires’ defencemen by a long stretch and his list of awards seems never-ending. He was a one-of-a-kind player and there may never be another like him.
Smith is a classic throwback. Drafted by the club in the second round of the 1994 OHL Draft, he immediately became a fan favourite because of his rough-and-tumble style, but he was also outstanding with the puck. From 1994-97, he racked up over 600 penalty minutes and 140 points in just 188 games. You may never see stats like that again. While his career has taken him around the hockey circles, he will always be a Spitfire at heart.
The Spitfires have had many top-notch defencemen come through their system, but Ellis and Smith stand among the elites and deserve to be in the all-time starting six.
Right-Wing – Craig Kennedy
When the chips are down, every team needs that one durable, team-first player. It’s a perfect spot for the workhorse, Craig Kennedy.
In 1999-00, during their rookie season, Kennedy joined Steve Ott and Shawn Mather to form the “M.O.K.” line. The gritty, offensive trio became an instant hit.
Once the line split in 2002-03 due to graduation, Kennedy kept at his two-way, gritty game. While he reached a point-per-game pace just once (2002-03), he was incredibly consistent with 244 points in 303 games from 1999-04. Every team needs that type of player, and the Spitfires were happy to have him for that long.
Selecting a right-winger was tough as a handful of players could have been justified here, including recent graduate Luke Boka. Kennedy’s overall game put him over the top, though, and into the all-time starting six.
Center – Bill Bowler
When you think of the Spitfires and scoring, Bill Bowler is at the top of the conversation. He’s also proof that it doesn’t matter where you’re drafted but what you do with that chance.
As the Spitfires’ 13th-round pick in 1991, the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Bowler shot out of the gates with 88 points in 1991-92 and laughed the rest of the way. He scored at least 120 points in each of the next three seasons, finishing with 149 goals and 318 assists in just 250 games. Nobody in OHL history has more assists, while only two – Stan Drulia and Wayne Groulx – have more points. That puts a lot into perspective.
Now the Spitfires’ general manager, Bowler was a leader and one of the best producers the league has seen. He’s worthy of this spot in the all-time starting six.
Left-Wing – Adam Graves
This was another tough choice. Throughout their history, the Spitfires have had several left-wingers come in and steal the show. John-Scott Dickson, Taylor Hall, and Ernie Godden (OHL single-season record for most goals with 87) were among some of the best in team history. When push came to shove, though, only one name felt right – Adam Graves.
When you think of classic Spitfires, Graves is the first name that comes to mind. At 6-feet, 205-pounds, the Tecumseh-native was the sixth-overall pick in 1985 and a nearly ideal local product.
He put up 64 points in 62 games in 1985-86 and added another 160 points in 103 games from 1986-88 before moving to the pros. In the 1988 OHL Playoffs, Graves added a staggering 32 points in just 12 games. His numbers were surreal. He was the player that everyone loved, and he deserves a spot in this lineup.
No matter what the team needed, on and off the ice, he was their guy. The Spitfires retired his #9 in 1998 and, as Graves enjoyed a long NHL career, his OHL jersey rests proudly above the rafters in the WFCU Centre.
In their storied history, the list of names that have put on a Spitfires uniform is incredible. The fans and the City of Windsor have been lucky and treated to some entertaining hockey. When the chips are down, though, these six players, in their prime, would give the club the best chance of winning that “winner take all” game.